Liberia’s Supreme Court has ruled that a $1.5 million verdict against the FrontPage Africa newspaper should be enforced.
A lower court ruling in 2010 found the paper guilty of libelling former Agriculture Minister J. Christopher Toe.
It said then that FrontPage Africa did not provide evidence to support its claims that Toe diverted millions of dollars intended to fight an army worm infestation in Bong and Lofa Counties. Toe later resigned without stating why.
Rodney Sieh, publisher of FrontPage Africa said he stands by his story and that the Supreme Court ruling is intended to shut down his newspaper.
“I was kind of not surprised because we’ve been hearing that they were going to do this and so we were kind of anticipating it to come out. Asking us to pay $1.5 million is like telling us to shut our paper down. They will have to close down because we cannot afford to pay that money, and we insist that our story was factual,” Sieh said.
According to some legal analysts, FrontPage Africa can petition the Supreme Court for a re-argument of the case, but that would require the approval of one of the court’s justices.
Sieh said he did not appeal the lower court ruling because he believed he could get a fair hearing before the Supreme Court.
“The problem is our court reporter informed us that some of the lawyers had problems because, in our Supreme Court fight, we said that we could not find a lawyer that would understand the media landscape. Mind you, no newspaper has won a case in Liberia against any government official,” he said.
He said he has notified the Press Union of Liberia and was in the process of notifying the Committee to Protect Journalists about the court decision.
Sieh said it appears President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government has been encouraging its officials to sue newspapers.
“In the last three, four months alone, several government officials have been suing newspapers at random, and it is becoming glaring that the administration is encouraging government officials to sue newspapers. Even if a newspaper has supporting documents and evidence to support their story, they are being sued. So, we have no other option but to keep fighting,” Sieh said.
Sieh said he does not have faith in the Liberian justice system.
“As it stands now, we don’t have confidence in the judicial system in this country because the ruling in this case was based on our experience with the Supreme Court justices last year in the Angel Tokpah case,” Sieh said.
The court ordered Sieh jailed for 30 days and fined for contempt in January, 2011 after an editorial he wrote criticizing the court for being biased. VOA